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  • WORKING PAPER #40

    An Investigation of

    The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s 2012-2013 Get Re-Energized Module

    William H. Schmidt

    Leland S. Cogan

    Michigan State University

    March 2014

    The content of this paper does not necessarily reflect the views of The Education Policy Center or Michigan State University

  • An Investigation of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s 2012- 2013 Get Re-Energized Module

    Author Information William H. Schmidt Leland S. Cogan This work was supported by funding provided by the Boeing Corporation.

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    An Investigation of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s

    2012-2013 Get Re-Energized Module William H. Schmidt

    Leland S. Cogan

    Michigan State University

    Assessments of U.S. students typically reveal stronger performance in science than mathematics yet their science performance remains uninspiring at best. Whether the metric considered is an international benchmark from TIMSS or PISA or the nation’s NAEP report card, the mediocre portrait of U.S. science achievement has remained virtually unchanged over the past 20 years. The most recent science scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provide a sobering example. The percentage of students deemed proficient in science decreased across the grades assessed from a high of 34 percent at fourth grade to a low of 21 percent at twelfth grade. Even more disquieting, very few students – no more than one or two percent – performed at the advanced level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).

    Teachers are a major influence in the achievement of students. However, teachers of science – particularly those in the elementary and middle grades – often do not have the academic background needed to teach science effectively (National Research Council [NRC], 2010, 2013). The need for building the professional capacity for science teachers has been recognized and addressed by many diverse organizations such as colleges and universities, regional school districts, professional organizations, educational consortia and private vendors of educational materials. These disparate offerings have provided little consistency in their purpose, scope or content. Offerings range from those that continue the approach of overviewing a large number of topics at a relatively superficial level to those that provide a more focused approach on specific science content. Research has identified a need for classroom science instruction to provide greater depth of understanding of science topics and concepts (Schmidt et al, 2001; NRC, 2011). If this need is to be addressed, professional capacity-building programs for classroom science teachers must also emphasize greater depth of understanding of science topics and concepts (NRC, 2013).

    The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) is a readily accessible resource not only to the people of Chicago but also to a much larger multistate area. Very few communities have access to a science resource that is as vast and comprehensive as MSI. Furthermore, MSI has taken the initiative to establish an active and ongoing multifaceted working relationship with the Chicago Public Schools and other local schools, particularly those serving high-needs student populations. Their role has extended considerably farther than the typical level of engagement of a museum with its community and its schools. The issues of lackluster student achievement in science and science teachers’ access to quality professional capacity-building experiences led

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    MSI to form the Institute for Quality Science Teaching (IQST). One of the key goals of the IQST is to improve the science achievement of 4th-8th grade students in the Chicago area. To accomplish this goal, a series of professional capacity-building courses that occur throughout the K-12 school year was developed and targeted toward the teachers of these students in the Chicago area – a move consistent with NRC recommendations (NRC, 2014; Traphagen & Traill, 2014). Each year IQST offers two concurrent courses that span the K-12 school year. Four different courses have been offered on a rotating basis since October 2006. Three goals have been articulated for all of MSI’s teacher courses: 1) improving teachers’ science content knowledge; 2) increasing teachers’ use of hands-on and inquiry-based strategies in the classroom; and 3) building teachers’ use of external resources, e.g., how to use resources such as MSI and other informal learning institutions and web-based experiences, to improve their science teaching.

    The connection between teacher ability and student success has broad support in the science education literature (The Council of Chief State School Officers, 2009). Therefore, recruitment efforts for IQST have focused on those science teachers who have expressed that they have limited ability to teach science effectively. By providing these teachers with content-rich capacity-building experiences in which teachers participate in the same type of inquiry-based, hands-on experiences their students would explore in the classroom or other learning settings, IQST intends to affect a positive change in program participants’ ability to teach science. In affecting the knowledge and confidence of teachers to teach science, IQST seeks to affect the ultimate goal of improving students’ science achievement.

    In accord with their ongoing work with the Chicago Public Schools and commitment to other area schools, the museum has had a particular focus on improving the condition of science instruction and the science performance of students in high-need, low socio-economic schools. The application teachers complete for all IQST modules gathers information about teachers and their schools. Teachers in mostly urban, high-poverty schools and those indicating a need for greater capacity in teaching science are given priority in the acceptance process. The museum commits considerable resources for those teachers accepted into these capacity-building modules. In addition to a dedicated instructional staff, the museum provides teachers with instructional materials including lesson plans and lab materials they can use to demonstrate specific concepts addressed in their module as well as one bus to transport the teacher, the students in at least one of the teacher’s classrooms, and adult chaperones for a field trip to the museum. The IQST courses are rich in content and in instructional strategies. Each have been accredited to earn 6 graduate credit hours from the Illinois Institute of Technology or five graduate credit hours from Valparaiso University that may be applied towards a middle-grades science endorsement or a Master’s of Science Education.

    This study’s main focus was to evaluate the first of IQST’s course goals, improving teachers’ content knowledge, in one IQST course. This focus was justified both logically and from the

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    research linking teacher knowledge to student knowledge. The module selected for this evaluation project was the Get Re-Energized (GRE) module that focuses on energy topics, a part of the physical sciences and an area of particularly weak performance for U.S. students (Schmidt, McKnight, Cogan, Jakwerth, & Houang, 1999). The GRE module consists of six whole day workshops, one workshop occurring in each of the months October through April. The evaluation team, comprised of MSI staff and consultants from Michigan State University’s Center for the Study of Curriculum, designed the study to focus on what teachers had learned through the GRE module. In the planning process the group was emboldened to include measures for teachers’ students on the possibility that the teachers’ increasing capacity might influence their students at the same time as teachers were acquiring it.

    THE STUDY

    Once all applications for the Get Re-Energized course had been received and screened according to MSI criteria, applicants were randomly assigned either to participate in the course or to be part of a control group. Two strata were used in this random assignment: 1) whether a teacher had participated in a previous IQST course, and 2) whether a teacher had taught science the previous year. It was thought that both of these conditions might influence the quality of the GRE experience so these were included as specific strata in the random assignment. All applicants were currently teaching science yet less than half had taught science the year immediately prior to the GRE study year. One quarter of the applicants had previously participated in an IQST course other than GRE. There were 60 available seats in the GRE course and 92 applicants available to be randomly assigned. Thus 32 teacher applicants were extended invitations to participate in the GRE study as controls. Those in the control condition were asked to complete the same questionnaires as the GRE participants but were not allowed to take any IQST course that year. As incentives, control teachers were offered the same MSI field trip package as that available to GRE teachers, guaranteed acceptance into a future IQST course of their choosing, and an iPad upon completion of their participation in the study. Only two teachers did not respond to this invitation letter to participate in the control condition. In addition, three GRE participants declined to complete any of the surveys for this study. Analyses of available teacher background characteristics did not reveal any discernable bias introduced into the